The Grenadines Initiative was created to extend the work of the Bequia Mission, which was founded in 1970, and incorporated as a registered charity in 1981 by the late Reverend Ron Armstrong. An Anglican priest, Armstrong established the Mission as an extension of his ministry, providing social support to the Bequia and the neighbouring Windward Islands. After his death in 1994, June continued to lead the mission until her death in 1997. To say that both remain highly regarded on the island is an understatement.
The mission was conducted through the work of local volunteers as well as those from farther afield. After the Armstrongs, the mission was led by Gerry and Sandra Bird, Canadians with a deep personal connection to the island and its population. Under their leadership it grew to become a non‐ profit, non‐denominational charity dedicated to providing a range of social supports, including food aid, housing, medical aid and assistance, and access to education. As a member of the faculty of Lakefield College School, a prominent private school in Ontario, Gerry Bird hosted service trips, groups of Canadian students who travelled to Bequia to pitch in with the work of the mission and its programs. Despite being a smaller program, those trips signalled a new direction for the work of the mission, namely to provide local children with personal connections to the world beyond.
The Grenadines Initiative
The Grenadines Initiative was launched in the spring of 2018 in order to extend the work of the Bequia Mission, renew engagement, and restate the vision that has lead the mission since it was founded. It is a non‐ profit, non‐denominational charity dedicated to providing social, educational, and medical assistance to individuals and charitable organizations in the small island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), in the eastern Caribbean.
A key program, we are particularly proud of the successes of The Learning Center. It began modestly as an after-school tutorial program tasked principally with supporting basic literacy and numeracy. Initially run out of a private home, we worked to find a permanent space, one with classrooms and more teachers, more resources, and room for more students. The Learning Center improves outcomes in the common entrance exams resulting in students having access to secondary programs on the mainland. There are currently 80 registered students in this after school program. It’s a great success, though we think the model can be successfully scaled, efficiently and cost effectively, to meet the needs of students in communities that are geographically remote from Port Elizabeth. This particularly for students attending school in Paget Farm, as the time to get to the harbor is prohibitive, as well as the time to get home after school. We are investigating the costs of establishing a similar, if smaller, model in the community centre there.
In-country scholarships are offered to offset expenses (transit, supplies) associated with access to public secondary school programs. Applicants apply to the program, and selection is conducted by the board of the Learning Centre. Selection criteria include exam results and personal aspirations. Funds are used to buy travel vouchers and supplies, at the direction of the Learning Centre Board, which are then given to the recipients at the beginning of each semester. A minimum grade attainment is required for a recipient to remain a beneficiary of the scholarship program, and grades are reviewed by the Board each term.
We offset the costs of postsecondary education for students who demonstrate need as well as a distinct passion to pursue their aspirations. We’ve helped Kadeen become a pilot, Gabby a chef, and helped Jamell along on his way to becoming a doctor.
Chromebooks are a relatively efficient and cost-effective way to deliver learning resources to island schools. They have an enormous impact on the school’s ability to teach the basics, effectively creating a levelled, curriculum driven library where there wasn’t one before. They also allow students access to a full suite of online tools, with age-appropriate online safeguards, building digital literacy. Via the Chromebook Program we work to ensure that schools have a class set of chromebooks, and provide opportunities for training, sharing of best practices, and STEM applications.
Youth at risk
We have partnered with the Junior Sailing Academy (JSAB) to provide structured education and training to support youth with an interest in pursuing a marine based career. JSAB have identified a number of youths in Bequia who have demonstrated a strong skill in sailing, but lack the literacy and numeracy skills to pass the marine certification programs that they offer. As a result, we are piloting an education program for these 16- to 17-year-olds in an effort to prepare them for writing their marine certification process.
We have also partnered with other local programs, offering support for individual students as well as that to grow and maintain the great work being done. This includes the Bequia Kiai Karate School which meets twice weekly at their newly constructed dojo in Port Elizabeth. The school is affiliated with the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF).
We also provide support for apprenticeships, pairing youth with local craftspeople, businesses, and trades as a means of providing hands-on skill development, and potentially points of entree into industry.
Food and medical aid
Remaining true to the initial mandate of the Bequia Mission, we provide relief through the provision of supplies and food, including a daily lunch program for students in junior school. Whenever possible, supplies, produce, and trades are sourced locally in order to provide secondary support, maximizing the financial impact of our programs.
A key aspect of the work of the Grenadines Initiative is made possible by the John and Margaret Sagan Foundation, which over the last 10 years has provided significant support for medical supplies. Those gifts have delivered large equipment to the hospital and clinic on Bequia—in the past that’s included an autoclave, a defibrillator, a portable ultrasound—as well as supplies, including suture thread, needles, and continence management supplies.
The sum of the parts
All the various elements—scholarships, programs, aid—are part of a bigger story. “For me it was not employment,” says Tylisha Miller of finding a role at the Learning Center, “it was my new found family, my home.” It’s a place where, says Miller, kids “are given the attention needed to excel.” It’s a community in the way that John McKnight, director of the Community Studies Program at the Center for Urban Affairs at Northwestern University, defines it: “the place where citizens prevail.”
The support that we give, through the Grenadines Initiative, is in the service of that larger goal. That’s why we listen to teachers, first, before sending stuff, ask what people want, rather than assuming what we think they need. They know best what they need, because it’s their community they’re building, their dreams they’re following. If we can help realize those goals, knowing the difficulties that are endemic to the region, so much the better. We can do this.
“Thank you, Grenadines Initiative, for all you do for the children in Bequia, both now and when you were the Bequia Mission!”Amy Wood